Gas station close-up with colored fuel hoses

The President’s announcement in the fall of 2018 to allow year-round sales of E15 blend motor fuel had farmers across the country jumping for joy. Although there are quite a few regions in the U.S. that have adopted E15, the Northeast is slow to jump–Mainers, likely being the most stubborn of the bunch. In fact, currently in Maine almost two years after the announcement, there is still not a single retailer selling E15. Why is that the case? In what way could retailers and consumers benefit from this bio blend and what challenges do c-stores and retailers face in order to implement the blend? Is a transition to E15 viable or is it inevitable here in Maine? Some believe that under the current pressures to  meet renewable fuel standards, a change to E15 in the Northeast isn’t only probable, but certain as well.


Why Have Mainers NOT Adopted E15?

There are a few answers to this question. The most obvious being that the demand for E15 by the consumer in Maine is low if it exists at all. There is stigma when it comes to ethanol that it will attract water and cause problems in the tank. This has been the history with older vehicles and ATVs. Most engines older than 2012 will even show E15 with a slash over it indicating that it will be bad for the tank. Where many people in Maine drive older cars and ATVs, the reality is that brand new vehicles and new model recreational vehicles are designed to run on higher ethanol blends.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding E15 and if it’s safe to run in older vehicles. The petroleum marketers along with AAA in the past have issued warnings to anyone fueling up vehicles older than 2001 that were not designed to handle ethanol blends. This is a big problem, especially in States such as Maine where the streets are peppered with older model cars. However, eventually this will change the consumer will inevitably move on to newer model cars.

One thing is for certain. In order for E15 to become accepted in Maine with increased demand, Mainers will need to get past the preconceived notion that ethanol is bad. Until this happens, unless ordered otherwise, retailers will hold off on selling E15. Changing a mindset is not an easy process. In fact, it is nearly impossible in States like Maine. It would take a lot of funding for education via marketing efforts in order to do so. An expense most retailers are unwilling to take on as a result of the lack of consumer demand.


What Would It take for C-Stores to Integrate E15 into their Sales?

The process to put E15 on the market is not as straight forward as one might think. According to Kristi Moriarty, Senior Engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on Episode #202 of “Convenience Matters,” when adding E15 there are certain regulations that must be upheld. For some retailers, this could be adding an entirely new tank while for others it could be the addition of materials on the pumps to perhaps a full replacement of the pump system. The NREL has conducted research to determine what equipment is needed in order to sell E15. For some retailers, this will require the additional cost of not only getting their equipment evaluated, but of certain upgrades to infrastructures as well. Regardless of low demand and high cost upgrades, there might come a time when c-stores in the Northeast will be ordered to start carrying E15 due to the clean air initiatives. Although, this has not happened yet, initiatives being passed on the State and Federal level for reductions in green-house gas emissions, implementing E15 across all States might not be a choice for c-stores or consumers.


What Are the Potential Benefits to E15 in Maine?

As mentioned above, using a heavier blend of organic material (mainly corn)  in gas will contribute to a decrease in the use of petroleum, which some people believe will result in a decrease of greenhouse gas emissions. Because the cost of farming corn is relatively cheap, the price of E15 is less than E10 and other lower ethanol blends currently being sold across the State. In other words, some believe the adoption of E15 will create a cleaner, cheaper, domestic choice biofuel that will help bring us to a cleaner more economically sound future. E15 very well could be a viable alternative to electric vehicles, which here in Maine is absolutely essential considering the fact that electric powered vehicles just do not hold up during the cold months (see studies via Consumer Reports and AAA regarding electric vehicles in cold weather climate).

For now, the State of sales for E15 in Maine and the Northeast remains at a standstill. Perhaps if we grew more corn here in Maine or discovered a bio blend that worked more efficiently off pine trees it would be a different story. Still… who knows what will be coming down the pipeline in order to meet our new Carbon Free Future goals. Only time will tell.